Chris's Reviews > Replay

Replay by Ken Grimwood
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really liked it
Recommended for: anyone aware that their future self is trapped in the past

** spoiler alert ** Right from the back of the book: “As exciting as ‘Back to the Future’, As romantic as ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’, a phenomenal time-tripping adventure.” Well, in the spirit of a little ‘time-tripping’ let me bring these comparisons slightly up to date; Replay certainly has a quaint combination of elements from the aforementioned films, but it most resembles ‘Groundhog Day’. Any fan of the three previously mentioned films would find it difficult to be disappointed by Replay.

Beginning with the first sentence of the book, author Grimwood makes it obvious that something spectacular is happening to the protagonist, Jeff Winston. Jeff is in the throes of death before we truly know anything about him, and in his final seconds under the strain of a heart attack, the little that is related is that his marriage to his wife Linda has become unfulfilling and is headed towards divorce, his dream of moving from radio station management to a job in television has been unsuccessful, his efforts to have a child with Linda have failed, and money is tight. Basically, Jeff Winston is a man with many regrets as to which fork in the road of life he’d followed on numerous occasions, and just after 1PM on October 18th of 1988, his life stops and he falls face forward on his desk after another tedious and routine staff meeting.

Jeff suddenly comes to, and after a short time of trying to piece together what the hell has just happened, he’s rather shocked to discover he’s now back in 1963, at Emory University, eighteen years old and still possessing all the knowledge of his previous life and world events. Naturally, he has some serious questions as to what is going on; could the ‘life’ he’d experienced have been a nightmare brought on by a serious bender, is this really what the afterlife is like, can he effect any changes in this alternate reality? Luckily, Jeff doesn’t play around, once he’s reasonably sure that this is for real he goes about using his foreknowledge of events to come to his advantage, beginning by rounding up every dollar he can get and placing a bet at 11 to 1 odds on Chateaugay at the Kentucky Derby. In doing so, due to his age, he has to get an older student to place the bet, and that person is Frank Maddock, who meant very little to Jeff in his original existence. At this point, I was sold on the book, one of my best friends lives on a street called Chateaugay (all the streets in his area are named after successful racehorses like Man O War and Dark Star) and every time we’d have a crazy-ass party there and call Hungry Howies pizza to make a delivery at 1AM while trashed was extremely interesting. “Chateaugay. Yes, GAY, G-A-Y…no, this isn’t a joke, it’s the name of a champion racehorse.” Well, after the success at the Derby, Frank assumes that Winston is a mastermind handicapper, and they head off to Vegas increasing to their roll. Jeff meets Sharla Baker, a rough-around-the-edges nymphet with an insatiable sexual appetite. His partner in the whole affair, Frank, is pushing for him to prove his gambling prowess again, and here is where they make it big, Jeff tells him to lay all their previous winning on the World Series, claiming the Dodgers will sweep the Yankees 4-0. This bet pays out over 12 million in cold, hard cash, but also succeeds in making sure no reputable bookie is ever going to do any business with them again, so they begin Future, Inc, and start making some honest money by snatching up stock which Jeff knows will experience phenomenal growth.

Jeff is soon faced with some dilemmas, despite what appears to be a far more fortuitous existence than he could have ever counted on, as he’s now changed his own history, and the events in his own future are no longer so predictable. Frank has become suspicious of the accuracy of Jeff’s investments and apparent knowledge of things to come and breaks off their partnership. Sharla has also become tiring, he also misses having a meaningful companion and he kicks her slutty ass to the curb with a parting gift of 200K. But the real mind-boggler is his inability to change a single world event: he tries to stop the JFK assassination by getting Lee Harvey Oswald arrested, but on that fateful day in Dallas the deed is still done, this time by some chump called Nelson Bennett. This is obviously bothersome, as it means that this JFK shooting was either much more involved than he thought (perhaps Bennett had always been a back-up should Oswald wind up arrested or perhaps throw his back out laying the wood to his old lady) or can there be events which he is simply powerless to change? These questions are enough to make him start doubting himself, but the most devastating event occurs when he goes to meet Linda, his former wife, at the same time and place he did in his original life, but this doesn’t work out so well, he’s too full of himself and his intimate knowledge of her (as a total stranger) freaks her out and chases her off. He’d thought that with his wealth secured and having a comfy job he could make their relationship work this time, alas, she ends up threatening to call the police on him. He ends up in yet another unfulfilling marriage, this time to a snobby socialite named Diane. The only good thing to happen in the coming years is finally having a child, a daughter named Gretchen, the light of his life. But before she enters womanhood, despite his routine medical check-ups and all the precautions he takes concerning his health, he still kicks the bucket on the same day, at the same time, when Oct 18 1988 rolls around.

But, he wakes up again in 1963, and this is destined to keep happening to him, but with a minor variation, each time he begins life anew, he starts a little later in time, the next replay begins a matter of hours later, but the pace increases, and soon he’s starting month later, then years later.

Seems like I just ruined the book, eh? Far from it. This isn’t even the first third of the book. It only gets better from here. His first replay is exactly what you’d expect someone to do, hook themselves up and live the good life. With each successive replay, Jeff approaches his course of events from a different angle, with wildly varying results for good and for ill.

Over the course of his next lives he’ll end up spending one with his college sweetheart, Judy, serene, loving, and peaceful, in another he just goes apeshit, once more hooking up with Sharla the floozy before living in Paris, where they spend years having wanton group sex while smoking pounds of opium.

However, when a movie called ‘Starsea’ becomes the highest grossing film in history something is awry and after seeing the film, he realizes that only another Replayer could have made such a stunning allegorical work; when he meets producer Pamela Phillips, his suspicions are confirmed. Pamela, however, is determined to use her experiences replaying to heighten the collective consciousness of mankind, and they immediately clash over how to use the unnatural influence they have. When Pamela’s sequel to Starsea is a dismal failure, she returns to Jeff and they fall madly in love, until 1988, of course.

More replays; one with a common goal, to seek out other replayers. Now that they know their situation isn’t quite as unique as they once suspected, they begin putting ads in major newspapers asking anyone who is familiar with obscure references to the future to reply. Another to try getting help in understanding their situation; they go public with their knowledge of the future, in an effort to get some help or explanation from the scientific community as to what is happening to them, and, more specifically, what might be the cause of the ‘skew’, why are they beginning each replay later and later, and will the final one result in permanent death?

This is where it gets sentimental and begins making the reader question what they might do in this strange circumstance. When Jeff begins a replay in which he’s already with Linda, back when they were still passionately in love, can he bring himself to go to Pamela now? As bad as he knows his relationship with Linda will end, he’s lived almost 100 years without her, having failed to win her heart in the first replay and not seeing her since. So, what do you do? Do you go and try making the best of the life you originally lead? Do you go and try spending that precious little time left with a new love that has proven to have varied results? The remainder of the book, with Jeff and Pam forced to make these decisions, is definitely worth the price of admission.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February 8, 2008 – Finished Reading
March 8, 2008 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Janeelias (new)

Janeelias I read this books years ago - probably when it first came out and loved it. I had forgotten about until a friend lent it to my husband to read. Like Chris, I told my husband it was like Groundhog Day (only better). After reading Chris' review, I want to read this again.

James Mourgos It's interesting that this book was written BEFORE Groundhog Day by several years. Good review.

Scott Spotson Great review! I loved Replay too. There's another book called Life II, which I wrote. It also involves time travel to one's younger's self!

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